Andrelton Simmons has put the ball in play more than any other major leaguer this season, but until recently the contact had been almost exclusively fruitless and light.
Angels Manager Mike Scioscia knows the feeling.
“I was the same way as a player,” Scioscia said. “You were so confident you were going to put the ball in play that at times you didn’t wait for your hot zone. You started to get too aggressive and put pitchers’ pitches in play, which is not ideal.”
Simmons has struggled with pitch recognition all year and his balance until last week, when he began to watch video from the second half of the 2013 season, the best extended stretch of his career. Inspired, he eliminated the leg lift he had used this year and returned to the lighter toe tap he used then.
“I did that and found some stuff that make me feel really good,” the shortstop said Sunday morning. “I felt balanced in the box yesterday. It was the best I’ve felt the whole season, really. I was better balanced, and that gives me more time. When I’m balanced, I’m not rushing to get to the ball. It makes me not miss pitches.
“I’m just more confident when I’m balanced, because I know I can get to every pitch.”
Sunday afternoon at Angel Stadium, Simmons delivered the game-tying hit in his team’s 7-6 victory over Oakland and reached base twice more. For the Angels, the comeback victory averted a season-high seven-game losing streak.
Simmons had hit .255 with a .316 on-base percentage and .472 slugging mark and nine home runs during the 67-game stretch he used as a callback. He carried a .204 average, .231 on-base percentage and .263 slugging percentage into the weekend series against Oakland.
“You want to put it in play in the area where you feel you’re going to hit the ball the hardest,” Scioscia said. “He’s getting better at that right now.”
Hector Santiago pounded the ground near the mound in the fourth inning. The Angels’ starter had worked out of early control issues and into position for the team to win a rare game. And then he thought he blew it. In a span of four pitches, Santiago served up a grand slam to Coco Crisp and a solo home run to Marcus Semien.
Santiago struggled to command his early pitches, as he often has this season. He walked two men in the first inning but escaped unscathed. In the second, he yielded a single and double in quick succession, and then allowed a run to score on a groundout. Santiago settled in the third and benefited from a running Mike Trout catch of a Khris Davis drive to the warning track.
Because the Angels’ bullpen is beleaguered, Scioscia left Santiago on the mound after the fourth, and he finished two more innings with no further damage. His earned-run average still rose to 5.27, about twice his mark from this time a year ago.
In the eighth, Giavotella doubled and scored on a Jefry Marte single. Daniel Nava walked, Jett Bandy pinch-hit and flew out, and then Simmons singled to tie the game.
The Angels strung together two singles, a walk and a sacrifice fly from Marte to win it in the ninth.
A loss would have put the Angels on pace to set the franchise record for losses in a single season. They avoided that ignominious territory but remained in last place in the American League West division, at 32-44.